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Balancing skill, safety and fun in youth sports
April 21, 2022
Baseball player sliding into a base


    Playoffs, all-stars, college scholarships – whatever the motivation, there’s been a trend in kids specializing in specific sports at younger ages. The potential reward doesn’t come without risk though.

    Participating in sports offers many benefits for kids and teens but specializing in a particular sport at a young age can lead to overuse injuries, psychological fatigue and burnout. As a former Division 1 college athlete, Dr. Shaunette Davey is personally and professionally familiar with sports-related injuries. She’s here for athletes of all ages and sports when the need arises.

    Kids and overuse injuries 

    Overuse injuries are caused by repeated stress to a muscle or joint without opportunity for rest or rehab. The bones, muscles and ligaments of young athletes aren’t fully developed which sets the stage for injury when the same motions are repeated over and over.

    • In baseball, elbow injuries have risen exponentially.
    • Swimming injuries are most often seen in the shoulders. One study found 91% of elite young swimmers reporting shoulder pain.
    • Wrist and back injuries are common in female gymnasts, while elbow and shoulder injuries plague male gymnasts.
    • Ice hockey injuries are also on the rise with hip and groin strains most common.

    Youth sports considerations beyond the physical body

    Aside from the demand on muscles and joints, early sports specialization can have psychological impacts. Burnout and limited exposure to peers outside that sport can actually curb athletic accomplishment and cause undue stress.

    The upside of sports specialization

    Going all-in on a sport isn’t all bad. Kids develop strength, coordination, work ethic, teamwork and friendships on the field, floor or court. If they do have their sights set on being a standout athlete, we don’t want to discourage discipline and dedication.

    What’s a parent to do?

    Making all the right decisions as a parent isn’t easy, but this is a case where we can let our kids take the lead. Their enjoyment, intrinsic drive and motivation are much stronger predictors of their achievement and long-term commitment than our hopes for them as parents.

    We can encourage their safe participation in sports by:

    • Signing them up for a variety of sports and activities in their early years (before age 12). Skills often transfer easily from one sport to another with decreased stress on the body.
    • Making sure they have time for rest and free play to give the body and mind a break.
    • Keeping an eye out for pain, swelling, limping or other signs of injury and seeking medical attention quickly.

    Numerous studies in the U.S and across the world have shown that early sport specialization isn’t essential for achieving elite status. Encourage fitness and fun at the forefront, and the rest will fall into place.

    Learn more about our orthopaedic team and how they help young athletes, including with same-day appointments for time-sensitive needs.

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